Who is Elizabeth Sawyer and why is she considered one of the most infamous witches of the Stuart age?
- Friday April 28th 2023
Have you heard of the great Witch of Edmonton?
It has now been 401 years since the death of Elizabeth Sawyer in April 1621. For the anniversary of her death, we take a look back at who she was and why she is largely considered one of the most infamous witches of the Stuart age.
Born in 1572 in a small parish in Edmonton, North London. Long before her conviction and death in 1621, Elizabeth was rumoured to be a witch. Elizabeth lived during the time when King James the 1st of England was in reign, who had a very influential role to play in the persecution of witches under the English legal System.
London Witch Trials
Around 80,000 witches were sentenced to death between the years of 1500 to 1660 with around 80% of them being women who were considered to be conspiring with the devil. Although Germany has the highest execution of witches, witch trails and persecutions could be seen globally, with the famous Salem witch trials being held in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692.
In Britain, many women were wrongfully accused of being witches with most of the accused being older, poor women. Women who owned cats, had slightly hairier upper lips, floated in water or had a large birthmark or mole were often targeted and subjected to immense cruelty and isolation. To achieve a confession from the women, many obscene methods were used including thumb screws and leg irons which were heated over a fire.
Between 1500 and 1700 ‘The Great Hunt’ began, a surge in the persecution and prosecution of suspected witches in the London witch trials. Unfortunately, during this time there was a series of different natural crises that took place – which provided an excellent opportunity for people to blame these tragedies on witchcraft. Some of these tragedies included the Little Ice Age, the Black Death, and the Great famine.
Conviction of Elizabeth Sawyer
Elizabeth was a largely ostracised and isolated women in her local community. Unfortunately for her, she was also one of the many women who found herself accused of witchcraft. She is arguably one of the most famous witches of her time. Some say this was due to her difficult temper and quarrelsome character, but she also stood out in other ways which made her a very easy target. The 16th century was a treacherous time to be different. Elizabeth had a hunched, crooked back, with only one eye and others described her as “ghost-like” at her trial.
But, aside from her physical appearance and unfortunate reputation – what exactly led to her accusation of witchcraft and subsequent conviction leading to her reputation as "The witch of Edmonton"?
During a seemingly harmless argument with a neighbour called Agnes Ratcliffe, Elizabeth Sawyer threatened to harm her after Agnes hit her pig with a stick. Unfortunately for Elizabeth, Agnes Ratcliffe died only four days later by an unknown disease and whilst on her deathbed, she accused Elizabeth causing her death - with witchcraft.
This accusation was enough to bring Elizabeth Sawyer to trial, her trial was one of the most well broadcast witch trials of her time. At this trial, she was also accused of killing multiple other unknown children and also various animals.
Her innocence was proven regarding the death of the children, however the judge was not able to reach a verdict regarding the death of Agnes Ratcliffe.
It is widely reported that due to the judges inability to ascertain Elizabeth's innocence, he called for several women to come and search her body in the hopes they would find the mark of the witch, or, the devil. The women discovered a mark on Elizabeth's body which suggested that she had fed her blood to the devil. She was then taken into custody.
Now, it may come as a surprise that despite Elizabeth ascertaining her innocence throughout her witch trial, once in custody, she did indeed confess to the murder of Agnes Ratcliffe to a reverend Henry Goodcole. Even more shockingly, Elizabeth also confessed that she was often visited by a demon who took on the guise of a dog, this dog seduced her into submitting to Satan. She also warned that the devil found her to be an easy target due to her blaspheming and swearing, and with the help of Satan she was able to cause great misfortune on those who mistreated her.
Satan appears to be the master manipulator, as Elizabeth also confessed that despite this alliance she had now formed with the beast, he wanted her soul. The sucking of her blood, therefore completed this agreement and Elizabeth complied to this due to threats that her resistance would result in her body being torn into pieces.
Her confession and the mark of the beast found on her body, was enough for her to be sentenced to death. On April 19th, 1621 Elizabeth was found guilty and subsequently hung at Tyburn, close to our modern day Marble Arch in Central London at the tender age of 49. One of the most famous spots from the London Witch Trials.
Elizabeth Sawyer at the London Dungeon
At the London Dungeon, one of 16 gruesome shows tells the details of the execution of the witch of Edmonton, Elizabeth Sawyer.
It's 1621 and witch trials are really heating up.
You’ll enter the bowels of Newgate Prison and witness Elizabeth Sawyer, The Witch of Edmonton, awaiting her execution. She has already confessed and been convicted of conversing with the Devil with her own neighbours turning on her after the sudden illness and death of someone seen arguing with Sawyer only the week before. Coincidence? You're betting your life on it.
Sawyer looks broken and meek but be warned, there’s another side to her lurking within and it’s one you do not want to cross. Her fate is sealed and soon yours will be too…
Find out more about The Curse of the Witch at the London Dungeon.BOOK NOW